Community-Based Occupational Therapy and Aging in Place

Community Based Occupational Therapy

The desire to age in place is one shared by many elderly people and their caregivers. For some, it is the desire to remain relatively autonomous for as long as possible; for others, it is a financial decision, as aging in place is generally less expensive than living in a facility.

When the elderly person in your life begins to exhibit signs of dementia, there are some options available to you which may enable you to keep him or her out of an assisted living facility while still getting the necessary help. One of these options is the use of community-based occupational therapy, especially as it relates to conditions that typically affect elderly people.

What is community-based occupational therapy?

Community-based occupational therapy is the practice of engaging in therapy designed to touch upon the source or the basis of various afflictions. Instead of identifying symptoms for treatment, community-based occupational therapists work with the elderly in order to identify the underlying issues that cause specific problems and focus on treating the underlying functional deficits.

Community-based occupational therapy is more of a “bottom-up” approach, whereas treatment regimens designed to treat symptoms while the underlying issues are unaddressed would be more of a “top-down” approach.

For example, if an elderly person is having difficulty remembering things, a top-down approach would be to try to teach him or her a few tricks to aid in recollection of facts, while a bottom-up approach would be to try to identify the source of the memory issues and treat it. The idea is that by treating the source of the problems, the symptoms will be addressed as well.

What can community-based occupational therapy assist with?

While there is, unfortunately, no cure for aging, community-based occupational therapy can nonetheless prove to be quite useful in addressing many of the maladies that arise with increasing frequency as a person ages.

Some of the ravages of dementia, for example, can sometimes be mitigated by treating underlying problems such as poor diet, irregular (or non-existent) exercise, and other such items. While no physical therapist can completely eliminate all of the problems of dementia, the evidence suggests that proper treatment and a proper therapy routine can certainly lessen the effects of the condition and slow its progression.

Aside from dementia, community-based occupational therapy principles may be used to treat various types of physical and psychological issues, thus improving the quality of life of your elderly loved one and enabling him or her to maintain his or her independence longer.

Is community-based occupational therapy effective?

Community-based occupational therapy programs have been found to improve an elderly person’s ability to engage in the routine tasks necessary for his or her daily living, as well as decreasing the effects and rate of progression of dementia. Further, community-based occupational therapy assists caregivers by lessening the burden on them and giving them the confidence they need to address some of the more routine issues they may encounter when caring for an elderly loved one.

One study of 275 elderly patients, reported in BMJ, revealed that the use of community-based occupational therapy resulted in a significant improvement in the patients’ ability to function in their daily lives. In that study, 84% of the patients showed some improvement when participating in community-based occupational therapy.

Is community-based occupational therapy for me?

Only you can truly decide what course of treatment is best for you and your loved one. However, community-based occupational therapy has been shown to have significant impact in treating the effects of aging and dementia as well as in promoting independence of the elderly; for that reason, it would probably be worth your time to at least look into the matter and get more information to assist you in determining what is the best course of action for you, your elderly loved one, and your family.


Graff, M., Venooij-Dassen, M., Thijssen, M., Dekker, J., Hoefnagels, W., Olde Rikkert, M. (2006). Community based occupational therapy for patients with dementia and their care givers: randomised controlled trial. BMJ, December 7, 2006. Available online at (website). What is the difference between school based and private community based occupational therapy services? Ohana Occupational Therapy. Available online at